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Jiang Zemin

If ATV errs, why does Legco care?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2011, 12:00am

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No one disputes that ATV made a serious mistake in judgment and editorial standards when it erroneously aired a report on the death of former president Jiang Zemin. It not only reflected badly on the station but added to the perception of mistrust of the news media among the public. As such, the damage has been great. Clearly the TV station has a great deal of soul-searching to do. Tougher internal vetting of news sources and editorial monitoring must be put in place.

But why is it a matter for Legco to dissect? At a hearing, legislators made a big fuss about editorial independence - as if such independence is theirs to protect - and drilled various top ATV executives, including former news chief Leung Ka-wing, who has resigned over the report.

But precious little has been gained so far, other than the usual posturing and supercilious questioning from some legislators. Nothing new emerged other than a deep bowing from ATV executive director James Shing Pan-yu to apologise the umpteenth time for the mistake.

Are legislators now going to investigate every time a news group makes a serious reporting error? If so, we're on a slippery slope that in itself smacks of political interference in the freedom of the press.

It's important that news organisations make every effort to uphold the highest journalistic standards. But it is not clear that the report on Jiang stemmed from editorial interference. We still don't know the whole story. But even if the unidentified source was a senior member of management, it looks more like an attempt to offer a news scoop than to interfere.

It's time for ATV to clean up, but lawmakers aren't helping.